Category Archives: Hearing Assistive Technology

Here Ye, Hear Ye: Is Bluetooth Technology For You? by Carol Rose

Bluetooth is a wireless technology used for exchange of data over short distances between devices such as cell phones, personal computers, televisions and radios, and other sound devices. It also presents some helpful alternatives for the hard of hearing.

 

While the information in this article is aimed at those who have hearing aids equipped with a t-coil, hard-of-hearing people can still benefit from the products described by listening via headphones or ear buds to help boost the sound.  The advantage of listening with t-coil equipped aids, however, is that the sound is transmitted directly to both ears at a level programmed specifically by the audiologist for their individual hearing loss.

 

What’s a T-Coil?

As the name implies, t-coils are simply tiny coils of wire mounted inside the hearing aids. They are also referred to as telephone coils, tele-coils, audio coils or t-switches. If you’re getting hearing aids for the first time or are in the market for new ones, I encourage you to talk to your audiologist about equipping them with a manual t-coil. While auto t-coils can help with telephone connections, manual ones are powerful enough to connect to a Bluetooth neckloop, whose advantages I describe below.  If you have aids and do not know if they have t-coils, call your audiologist. You might have t-coils already and just need them activated.

 

Hiding in Plain Sight

You’ve probably seen business people walking down the street or sitting in the airport, talking with no phone in site.  Their cell phones are most likely in their pockets, purses or briefcases. Depending on the size, you may or may not see the earpieces themselves, which connect wirelessly to cell phones via Bluetooth technology.

 

As a person with a profound hearing loss, I too carry on a phone conversation with my phone in my pocket.  However, my “earpiece” is my hearing aid, and I wear a Bluetooth neck loop. The loop is equipped with a wire that can send sound waves to my t-coil equipped aid.  A small device connected to the end of the loop is paired with a Bluetooth enabled cell phone.  (Nearly all cell phones made after 2007 are Bluetooth compatible.)

 

What Can This Loop Do?

A Bluetooth neck loop can be paired with other Bluetooth compatible devices, such as any standard Bluetooth enabled cordless phone, any radio device that has a standard Bluetooth transmitter, certain iPods or MP3 players, and Bluetooth enabled computers. With this equipment, those of you with hearing loss can more readily enjoy phone conversations on a land line, music, and movies played on your computer. And if your TV or other sound system isn’t Bluetooth compatible, you can hook a Bluetooth transmitter up to it.

 

Recently a friend excitedly showed me her Christmas present – a small speaker about the size of a Pringles potato chips can. She turned it on, connected her computer’s Internet to a music website, pressed the Bluetooth icon on her computer, and music poured out of this speaker… wirelessly.  If I’d been wearing my neck loop, I could have easily paired it to the speaker, turned on my t-coils,  and enjoyed the music in both my ears at a sound level designed for my particular hearing loss.

 

quattro, bluetoothShopping for a Neck Loop

I’ve checked out many different Bluetooth neck loops on the Internet, and if you’re interested in pursuing this method of hearing phones, music, TV and more, I urge you to do the same.  One that impressed me is the “Clearsounds Quattro Amplified Bluetooth Neckloop.”  It’s small and has earphones for the hard-of-hearing person without t-coil enabled aids. Clearsounds also has a complementary product called the QLink for converting a non-Bluetooth enabled device to Bluetooth.  The price wasn’t bad either, ranging from $108 from one company for the neckloop alone, to $159 from another company for the neckloop, earphones and transmitter.  So shop around and be sure to find out about returns and possible restocking fees, as well as shipping and handling charges, before making your final decision.

 

Everybody’s Doing It!

As described on http://www.bluetooth.com, another advantage of Bluetooth technology is that the stigma once associated with wearing visible electronic devices has nearly disappeared. Today, many wear earpieces, headphones, and other devices for hands-free cell phone, portable game, and MP3 player use. These accessories have become cool, with attractive colors and flashy styles that are meant to be seen. This trend has helped ease hearing aid wearers’ concerns about standing out or looking odd because of wearing something on or in their ears.

 

Take It Outside!

Speaking of wearing something on your ears… if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, check out the colorful protective sleeves for your hearing aids at http://www.gearforears.com.  I believe my aids will sport a pair next time I embark on a canoe trip!

 

And if we’re still experiencing wintry weather when you read this, or to help prepare yourself for next winter, check out this blog on hearing aids and WINTER – http://www.miassisttech.org/mdrcat/index.php/frostbite-or-feedback-hearing-aids-in-winter/!

 

Carol Rose is a writer/photographer living in Grand Marais.  She also writes for the Grand Marais Pilot and Pictured Rocks Review.  With the advent of spring, she is looking forward to hiking, canoeing and driving her 1995 Jeep on the back roads of the U.P.

 

More to Consider When Purchasing a Hearing Aid:

 

Some aids are too small to allow a t-coil to be added, so make sure the ones you’re considering are large enough for this option. I also suggest making sure your t-coil has both the “t-coil” setting and a “t-coil/mic” setting.  Both allow you to hear information direct to your aid, but the “t-coil” setting shuts out other sounds, while the “t-coil/mic” setting allows you also to hear additional things at the same time, such as conversation in the room and, most importantly, traffic sounds when you are driving.

 

This article was reprinted with permission from the Spring 2014 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

 

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Elder Care: Here Ye, Hear Ye! (Part 2) by Carol Rose

As I mentioned in the previous issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, there are many devices on the market to help hard-of-hearing persons function better in their world.  Many of these devices can be used with or without an aid. In this issue, I’ll describe a specific part of a hearing aid – the telecoil, commonly referred to as the “t-coil,” and devices designed to work with this important hearing aid element.

How do I know about all this? I am 71 years of age and have a profound hearing loss.  I am also one of the fortunate 15% of the estimated twenty-seven million Americans age 50 and up, including two-thirds of men and women aged 70 years and older with a hearing loss, who wear hearing aids.

And I am a Hearing Technology Resource Specialist, (HTRS), which is a volunteer position with the Hearing Loss Association of Michigan, a group composed mainly of hard-of-hearing persons with the goal of helping others with the same disability achieve the best hearing possible for them.

In talking with hard of hearing people with hearing aids, one of the first questions I ask is “Do your aids have t-coils?”  The most common answer is “I don’t know.  What’s a t-coil?”

As the official website of the Hearing Loss Association of America,www.hearlingloss.org explains, the telecoil is a small copper coil that functions as a wireless antenna linking to sound systems, delivering customized sound to the listener.

It was originally used to boost the magnetic signals from the telephone handset. The telecoil is activated by a t-switch on the hearing aid or cochlear implant. All landline and some cell phones are designed by law to be compatible with a telecoil.

For whatever reason, some audiologists opt not to put a t-coil in a client’s aids.  Others don’t tell the client about the t-coil when they first get the aid.

Why some do not put a t-coil in, I don’t know.  Possibly the aid is too small?  Some of the advertisements say “So small no one will know you are wearing a hearing aid.”  Possibly so small it cannot fit a much-needed device?

One reason I’ve heard as to why audiologists will not tell the client about the telecoil is they feel the person getting a new aid may be too overwhelmed with it – the new sounds, buttons to push… they will wait until a future visit to tell and instruct about the t-coil.

So when would you use a telecoil? Increasing the volume on your hearing aid or cochlear implant won’t necessarily increase the clarity of what you hear. Hearing assistive technology combined with a telecoil can improve your understanding of dialogue at work, in a meeting, in the classroom, theaters, places of worship, tour buses, and other places. Some people use telecoils at home with the TV while keeping the TV volume low for the comfort of others. Many public places are equipped with hearing assistive technology.

The most common hearing loop is a wire that circles a room and is connected to the sound system. The loop transmits the sound electromagnetically. The electromagnetic signal is then picked up by the telecoil in the hearing aid or cochlear implant. To use a hearing loop, one easily flips the t-switch on the hearing aid or cochlear implant. No additional receiver or equipment is needed. Using a telecoil and hearing loop together is seamless, cost-effective, unobtrusive, and you don’t have to seek out and obtain special equipment.

Traveling in airports is difficult for me.  I cannot understand the noise that is coming over the loudspeakers.  Not so in the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, MI.  A sign on the door as one walks in tells the hard-of-hearing person to turn on his or her t-coil.  And upon turning it on – wah -la!  All the announcements go direct to my hearing aids!  Now I can not only hear, but I can understand! For those in the medical world, there are stethoscopes designed to connect directly to the telecoil; for the home, there are induction loop pads which will connect the hard of hearing person with t-coil equipped aids directly to a sound system, such as a TV.

One of my favorite pieces is the Clipboard Portable Induction Loop.  It looks like an ordinary clipboard but it contains a piece of wire inside it, which connects to the what? You guessed it! The t-coil in the hearing aid! Perfect for the hard-of-hearing college student, professor, or the hard-of-hearing counselor, doctor or nurse.

Telecoils can also improve hearing on hearing-aid-compatible phones, and can be used with neckloops to replace headphones. A neckloop is similar to a hearing loop, except it is worn around the neck and can be plugged into other audio devices, (such as an MP3 player, computer, or FM or infrared receivers), to transmit the audio signal directly to the hearing aid telecoil, bypassing the need for headphones.

Don’t assume that your hearing aid will automatically come with a telecoil or that it will be recommended. Or, if a telecoil is present, don’t assume it has been programmed to suit your individual needs. Today, approximately 65% of all hearing aids dispensed in the United States have telecoils. Yet, few consumers are told about them and know how to use them.

Use the Consumer Checklist, which contains information about t-coils, published by the Hearing Loss Association of America when purchasing a hearing aid (available on http://www.hearingloss.org).

Note: Automatic telecoils are available but work only with telephones, not hearing loops, so ask your audiologist or hearing instrument specialist to include a manually-operated telecoil in your hearing aid and ask for advice on how to use it. Also, see http://www.healthandhappinessupmag.com/events for information on registering for Sept. 27th’s free Kooser Program, The Hidden Impact of Hearing Loss, which includes vital information on choosing hearing assistive technology.

Carol Rose is a writer, photographer, found object artist and outdoor enthusiast living in Grand Marais. Wondering about Bluetooth technology and HAT (Hearing Assistive Technology)? Carol will discuss this in a future issue of Health & Happiness! In the meantime she wishes you “Happy Hearing!”

This article was reprinted with permission from the Fall 2013 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Elder Care: Here Ye, Hear Ye! (Part 1), by Carol Rose

Did you know that hearing loss affects an estimated twenty-seven million Americans age fifty and up, including two-thirds of men and women aged seventy years and older, but only fifteen percent of those sufferers use hearing aids?

And that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than older adults whose hearing is normal?

In a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins, volunteers with hearing loss and normal cognition undergoing repeated cognition tests over six years had cognitive abilities that declined thirty to forty percent faster than in those with normal hearing. Levels of declining brain function were directly related to the amount of hearing loss, the researchers say. On average, older adults with hearing loss developed a significant impairment in their cognitive abilities 3.2 years sooner than those with normal hearing.

I am seventy years of age and have a profound hearing loss.  I am also one of the fortunate fifteen percent mentioned above.

I am a Hearing Technology Resource Specialist, (HTRS), which is a volunteer position with the Hearing Loss Association of Michigan.  We are a group of mostly hard-of-hearing persons with the goal of helping others with the same disability/handicap achieve the best hearing possible for them.

Our goal as HTRS’s is to demonstrate Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT), in order to help those with a hearing loss hear better, make their environment safe, and increase independence.

Possible explanations for the cognitive slide described earlier given by senior study investigator, Johns Hopkins otologist and epidemiologist Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., include the ties between hearing loss and social isolation, with loneliness being well established in previous research as a risk factor for cognitive decline. Degraded hearing may also force the brain to devote too much of its energy to processing sound, and at the expense of energy spent on memory and thinking.

Now I am aware some people choose not to wear a hearing aid out of embarrassment, others because they are not quite ready for them; some because the aid they paid for just doesn’t work or feel right, and many others because they cannot afford the high cost, as most insurance plans do not cover the cost of hearing aids.

But the results of the above study make it even more imperative to HEAR! I know I do not want to be one of the people whose cognitive abilities decrease because I can’t hear.   And it makes me even more devoted to educating other hard-of-hearing people and their families as to possible solutions.

There are many devices on the market to help hard-of-hearing persons function better in their world.  Many of these devices can be used with or without an aid.  High quality headphones and ear buds are available for those without aids.

Start out with a list of your current needs/situation.  Do you have to have the TV or radio on so loud that others complain?  Are you unaware when someone rings the doorbell or knocks on your door? Are you unable to hear the phone ring?  Do you not hear the person on the phone? Are you concerned about hearing devices such as smoke and carbon monoxide alarms?  Or even the alarm clock?

I’ve spent a great deal of my senior life living alone and relying on blinking lights to alert me to some of the above situations.  There are also vibrating wrist watches and a device you can put under your pillow. The latter is sure to wake even the soundest sleeper! While I have chosen systems that make my household lights blink, there are other, more aggressive systems that work with strobe lights.

Please note that as a HTRS, I do NOT sell anything.  I have a list of companies selling Hearing Assistive Technology that I can get to you and I demo products. Below is a written “demo” of some equipment that can make your life easier.

For the TV watcher, there are several devices that can be worn with headphones or ear buds and connected either directly to the sound device via a cord, or wirelessly via infrared or FM.

Many devices meant for TV sound also work for hearing conversations. Two items that enable the hard-of-hearing person to hear conversations, as well as connect to the TV and telephone, are the Williams Sound Pocketalker or Pocketalker PRO and the Comfort Duett, by Comfort Audio, both currently priced under $200.

These are easy-to-use amplifiers, which help eliminate background noise for one-on-one conversations, indoor/outdoor activities, TV or radio listening, restaurants or small groups, or listening in a car.  These products can be used with hearing aids or with headphones or an ear bud.

One alerting system is the Alertmaster ALERT10 Complete Notification System. (I use a sixteen-year-old version of the Alertmaster which still works well and serves my needs.) The current system is affordable, versatile and wireless. Installed in your home, it uses flashing lights and a bed shaker to alert you to the doorbell, telephone, alarm clock, or loud room noises. It plugs into a telephone jack for telephone notification. It has a wireless doorbell button that just mounts outside your door. No wiring is necessary. Plug a lamp into the back of the master unit, and it will flash. Distinct flashing patterns and lighted icons identify each activity. A large lighted button lets you turn the lamp on or off. Turn on the bed shaker for night time alert. Optional accessories even notify you of a crying baby or the presence of an intruder. An optional remote receiver lets you put a lamp signal in another room.

Another alert system is the AC-operated Sidekick table-top receiver, which is equipped with a flashing strobe light and jack for an optional bed vibrator. When the Sidekick receives a signal from a transmitter, the strobe light is activated for fifteen seconds and the bed vibrator, (if connected), is activated.

The Sidekick System is wireless and uses advanced electronics to monitor a wide variety of important household devices. One major benefit is that you may purchase the complete system all at once or build it one transmitter and/or receiver at a time. You can custom configure a system to fit your lifestyle and needs.

There is so much more… items to help you not only hear the phone but also be able to converse on it; Web access to phone calls that you can READ rather than hear; items for those who wear aids and those who don’t.  I’ll be featuring some of these in upcoming issues of Health & Happiness. In the meantime please call or email me with your issues and concerns, (906-494-2041, carolrose.u.p@gmail.com), and I’ll help point you in the right direction.

As you look for Hearing Assistive Technology for yourself or a loved one, check that the company has a thirty-day return policy with no restocking fee.  You might be asked to pay the return postage, but that’s all the expense you should have to incur for trying out their product.

What works for one hard-of-hearing person might not work for another.  Take your time, try out aids or hearing assistive technology, and make sure you have a return policy in place.

Helpful Websites: http://www.hearingloss.org and http://www.hearingloss-mi.org (This site was recently hacked and is being rebuilt – hopefully before this issue of Health & Happiness reaches your hands!)

Carol Rose is a writer, photographer and glass, rust and other found object artist, residing in Grand Marais.  She enjoys skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, canoeing, gardening and driving her ’95 Jeep on back roads. Carol’s determined to maintain her cognitive ability regardless of hearing loss.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Summer 2013 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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